HELPING COPE THROUGH HOPE
Local couple's outreach continues to grow
By Meghan Balogh/Napanee Guide
Tom and Cheryl Martin just returned from their yearly travels to Peru. Uganda, and Zambia where they continue to help more and more struggling families and individuals each year. On September 15 they will do a live and silent auction fund-raiser to sell some of the hand-crafted items from the countries they visit.
Making a difference in the world can feel like a daunting, even impossible task.
Donating money or joining a large international charitable organization might be the obvious answer to translating our North American wealth into a chance to change someone's life half a world away.
But for Tom and Cheryl Martin, the answer has been to take their passion for helping others and head for the poorest places in the world to change lives face-to-face.
And that's what they have done.
For six years, their non—profit organization Helping Cope Through Hope has continued to grow, helping more and more people in Peru, Uganda, and Zambia, the three countries to which they travel each year.
The retired couple — a school teacher and a nurse, their past occupations which come in handy in the field — took their first trips in 2006 and hit the ground running, meeting people in the South American and African countries simply by asking them about their lives. They helped approximately 50 people that year, with money from their own pockets and with donations from family and friends who knew what the Martins were trying to accomplish.
Helping Cope Through Hope has grown on a yearly basis and today, the charity —— still solely operated by the Martins and their supporters — sponsors more than 100 children, and as many families.
In the past couple or years they have purchased many acres of land in Peru, Uganda, and Zambia, all of which is being cultivated for food or livestock and used as a space for impoverished families to live and work.
“Really, it's amazing how it has expanded. Our work is getting big enough that there are issues to deal with every day,” says Tom. ‘We're expanding to different families all the time.“
For six months of the year Tom and Cheryl live among the people who are benefiting from the money, clothes, and sponsorships that they raise, two months in each country. They travel by foot or by bicycle through rural communities, meeting new people and helping the families already under Helping Cope Through Hope’s charitable banner.
And that is the unique thing about Tom and Cheryl's approach: in contrast to the large-scale model of international monetary aid that is provided to these countries by wealthy governments from around the world, much of which ends up in the corrupt hands of country leaders, the Martins firmly believe in starting at the bottom of the social ladder.
“We go and work and try to improve their lives and empower them so that they can help their own families," says Cheryl.
They help the poorest of the poor not only find temporary sources of food, but also develop businesses and livelihoods, and the means to grow their own food sources — com, beans, sweet potatoes, papaya, banana, goats, chickens.
They helped one man set up a chicken business years ago, and this year built him a new chicken coop so that he could expand his business.
They built a vegetable stand for another woman so that she could have a small business buying and selling produce.
Yet another woman they helped set up her own hair salon business.
The seeds of these investments go far beyond putting food in the bellies of hungry children — they give impoverished people the means, dignity, and optimism to make their own lives change for the better.
“That's much better than just giving them a bag of food,” says Tom.
The Martins also give their supporters back home the greatest chance to be intrinsically connected with the people they are helping, and to see exactly what their money is going to — every penny that is donated is used for outreach, and the overhead costs of airfare, accommodation, and “administration” come out-of- pocket for Tom and Cheryl.
In fact, they have recently sold their home in Napanee to be able to more entirely commit their finances to their passion.
The stories of connections forged between people in Canada and the people in South America and Africa are many, tied together by the common thread of the Martins’ kindness.
Some of those connections are made in person, Tom and Cheryl regularly take people with them on their travels - guests carry donated clothing and items in their luggage to transport overseas.
A woman from Ontario who wished to sponsor a child was able to support a little three-year-old named Earl in Zambia, who was named after the woman's recently deceased brother- That man had gone with Tom and Cheryl and made a major impact on the lives of little Earl's parents, who named their son after him.
Though they are pleased with how their $300 per year child sponsorships have expanded over the years, the Martins are excited that a few people have decided to continue and support their child through post- secondary education. That takes a bigger financial commitment, but will make all the difference in those young people's lives.
“We really see more and more that education is the key to a lot of things for young people,” says Tom. “Without it, it's almost impossible to do well."
The stories of the children and families whose lives are being changed are endless. One incredible story is of Kenny, a little boy with cerebral palsy.
“When we found Kenny he was laying naked on a mud floor house that was basically falling down. Snakes would crawl in. He'd be bitten by rats sometimes. Very, very poor," explains Tom.
A family visited the Martins in Uganda from Canada and fell in love with Kenny and through them, they rented a house for his family. His little sister got sponsored to go to school, but there was little possibility that Kenny could attend school with his condition.
“This year an amazing thing happened. We met a lady from Austria who started a school for handicapped children 15 minutes away from where we were. They wanted to start with 14 children and asked us if we knew of any they could help.“
They got an email last week that said Kenny loved it and didn't want to go home. He has access to education and physical therapy.
“We had no hope that Kenny would ever go to school. It's a miracle really, and that's close to where we are in Uganda."
“We never dreamt he'd be able to have physiotherapy, or be in a school where he’d be fed,” says Cheryl.
Speaking with Tom and Cheryl, one gets a strong sense of their passion to help others and of the real power of two people to effect change. If not for the retired Ontario couple, hundreds and hundreds of people would remain in the cycle of extreme poverty half a world away. The initiative of these two individuals has brought about a wave of change among the least-heard citizens of the world.
“We are going to help the people at the bottom. And you can't get any more bottom than the people we're working with. They're there,” says Tom. “And even the people in Africa don't realize. It's not Wor1d Vision, not some big NGO. lt’s Cheryl and I and our friends, that's basically all it is."
For more information, or to help Tom and Cheryl by donating or travelling with them, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at www.heIpingcopethroughhope.org.